Saturday, 3 September 2011

A single chef

I live alone. And I like to eat well. The two don't go well together for most people, especially when you're used to cooking big feasts for a partner or friends. It's only too easy to order a delivered takeaway or pick up ready meals from the supermarket. I certainly resort to takeaways once in a while, but I don't trust ready meals as I don't think they are nutritious (they tend to be high in salt, sugar and hidden fats).

With imagination, a little planning, some freezer space and a willingness to go with the flow when it comes to buying ingredients it's possible to eat very well indeed. And why not? Most cooking is not that difficult - you do not need to be able to spatchcock a pheasant or have trained under Gordon Ramsay to be competent in the kitchen.

I grew up in a biggish family and my mother cooked everything from scratch on a tight budget. Nothing was wasted. We ate very well and I learned to cook from watching her, then helping, then progressing to solo efforts. When I left home, she gave me two cook books, Cooking in a Bedsitter and The Pauper's Cookbook, which I still dip into. I've spent 30 years tearing recipes out of magazines and collecting cookery books - the problem is that when you live alone, most of them are useless as they tend to assume you must be cooking for 4 or 6 and size the recipes accordingly. They only earn their keep if you are cooking for friends. How to eat well when there's only you?

I discovered Nigel Slater long before he was famous, when he wrote a monthly column for Marie Claire, and I fell in love, for two reasons - firstly, Slater understands that most people these days don't live in big families, but on their own or with a partner. All his recipes tend to be for 1 or 2 people, but can easily be doubled up for more guests. Secondly, he cooks like I do - I rarely use scales but prefer to judge quantities by sight, smell and taste, and I like to make it up on the hoof, throwing things together because they are in season or because they just happen to be what's lurking in my fridge.

And so, welcome to my guide to being a solo gourmet. These are my adventures in my single kitchen, armed only with some decent pans, a couple of sharp knives and a larder full of essential ingredients.

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